Monday, July 20, 2015

"Death to the Daleks"

Aired Feb. 23 - Mar. 16, 1974

4 Episodes

Story 72

Written by: Terry Nation 

Directed by: Michael E Briant



Synopsis

The TARDIS materializes on the planet Exxilon, and then suddenly suffers a catastrophic power failure. Setting out to explore, the Doctor encounters a group of Earth Marine Space Corps, who inform him of their mission to uncover the cure for a galactic plague epidemic. The only known antidote, parrinium, is found in one place; Exxilon. They've obtained a supply, but their powerless ship is unable to leave.

Meanwhile, Sarah is heading toward a gleaming white city in the distance, attracted by the flashing beacon atop its main tower. She is captured by a group of Exxilons who take her to an underground cave and sentenced to be sacrificed for trying to enter the city, which the Exxilons worship as a god.

The Doctor and the Marines also encounter a group of Daleks who have landed on the planet and whose weapons have been inoperative by the planet. Though the humans and the Daleks enter an uneasy alliance, they are soon captured by the Exxilons as well.

Rreaching the caves, the Doctor manages to prevent Sarah's execution, and they flee into some tunnels to hide. The caves are attacked by a second Dalek squad that have managed to arm themselves with simple machine guns.The Marines continue their alliance with the Daleks while Sarah and the Doctor encounter a sophisticated and peaceful Exxilon named Bellal. Bellal informs them that the city was created long ago by his own race, but as it became more and more sentient, it eventually caused the Exxilons to sink back into primitive savagery. 

The Doctor deduces that the city's beacon is what's causing the planetary energy drain, and realizes that it must be put out of action if anyone is to escape. While the Doctor and Bellal enter the city and negotiate a series of deadly tests and traps in order to reach its control centre, Sarah will help the Marines get free of the Daleks and escape with the needed parrinium. 

Pursued by Daleks, the Doctor and Bellal eventually arrive at the control centre, where the Doctor manages to succeed in destroying the higher functions of the computer. The Daleks had planned to take all the parrinium for themselves and gain a galactic upper hand, but Sarah and the Marines successfully smuggle the mineral off their ship, and one of the Marines stays on board the Dalek ship and tigers a bomb as the Daleks take off, destroying the Dalek force. 

Analysis

Among the few good things you can say about Death to the Daleks is that it's only four episodes long, which obviously does not bode well for the rest of this analysis. Look, it's not the worst Dalek story of the Pertwee era, that dubious honor belongs to Planet of the Daleks. But that doesn't make it any good, either.

The first episode is actually really promising. The breaking down of the TARDIS, and the resulting grim and spooky atmosphere is great. The treacherous and scary scenes that follow are pretty weird for the era, which rarely resorted to such iconography. The episode actually makes the case for landing on alien planet being inherently terrifying, and it's kind of surprising that Doctor Who so often doesn't explore that aspect. The Marines we meet are somewhat interesting, and the cliffhanger where the Daleks arrive and immediately set out to exterminate the Doctor and his friends is a cracker.

Then episode two begins and it all goes pear-shaped alarmingly quickly. The idea of the Daleks being de-powered and non-lethal is a fantastic one, but its never really explored to its fullest. We could have gotten a brilliant adventure where the Doctor and the Daleks would be forced to work together to achieve a common goal, each of them hating every second, each of them waiting for the inevitable betrayal. Instead the Daleks just change their ray guns for machine guns, and I'm sorry, are we supposed to just go with the fact that they carry around tiny TARDIS models to use for target practice? The Marines immediately become useless and unimportant, the idea of the sentient god-city is never capitalized upon, save for a few really lame death-traps. Due to some re-editing we get probably the worst cliffhanger in the history of the series, and Sarah Jane, so full of agency and independence and energy the rest of this season, is written as generic girl companion. 

The music is mostly good, except, bafflingly, for the Dalek theme. Cary Blyton, always a polarizing composer for his choice of unusual instruments, in this story utilizes a saxophone quartet for the score. The result is a theme for the Daleks that sounds like it would better fit the part in a children's puppet show when the goofy giraffe shows up to knock over the tea set.

This is Terry Nation doing his standard boys-own-adventure thing, recycling ideas and plot points and never trying to do more than simply entertain eight-year olds. But even eight-year olds deserve better than this. 

This is the final Dalek story of the Pertwee era, and it's kind of sad to realize that his era coincided with one of the worst periods for the Doctor's most famous adversaries. Pertwee, like a lot of actors who played the Doctor, was no fan of the Daleks, and with the stories he got it's easy to see why. 

And what does the title even mean? It refers in no way to anything that happens in the story. It's like it was generated at random.

2 comments:

  1. I just did "The Chase" as part of my own rewatch project (http://touchthealiensand.blogspot.com/) - Terry Nation really coasted on the success of that first Dalek story, didn't he?

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  2. Nice blog post, Chris! And yeah, Nation never met a plot point he didn't re-use, right?

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